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Phrembah (a potato-like mystery)

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My friends are out of town and I simply don't feel like homework right now, that's why. [Sep. 3rd, 2005|11:12 pm]
Phrembah (a potato-like mystery)
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This business in the gulf states is a hair more than disturbing.  Apparently, these things do happen occasionally.  And are then, just as apparently, forgotten.  According to a review of John Barry's book, Rising Tide, on the radio this morning there was a flood in the Mississippi Valley in 1927 that was worse than current devastation in and around New Orleans.  It left a million people homeless and many of them never returned.  Some people were camped out for weeks or months on the few levees that didn't break because it was the only dry land for miles.  According to Barry, the disaster changed the South and the political landscape in the US forever.

Then at lunch, a guy sitting at the next table saw me reading the newspaper and just started talking to me about the hurricane damage.  He said that he grew up on the Gulf Coast and that practically no non-natives know that the city of Galveston was pretty much wiped off the map in 1900 by what they suspect was about a Cat 4 hurricane.  He said that thousands were killed.  He also told me that somebody decided that the best, quickest, most sanitary way to dispose of the bodies was to haul them out into the gulf and bury them at sea.  Oops.  A week later they all began to wash ashore and they had to deal with them all over again.  I Googled it when I got home and, sure enough, there are several web-sites dedicated to it.  One says 6,000 people were killed.  Another says 8,000 to 12,000.  NOAA says over 8,000.  At any rate, according to the web-sites, it still ranks as the costliest natural disaster in US history in terms of human life.

So right there are two massive gulf-state weather disasters that I didn't know about yesterday.  One bright spot is that Galveston did rebuild, but it was a monumental undertaking.  A large portion of the city was below sea level before the storm, just like New Orleans.  As they rebuilt they actually raised 500 city blocks above sea level by diking off large areas and pumping sand from the bottom of the shipping channel into them.  They had to raise or replace the water, sewer and gas pipes as they went.  It took eleven years.  The 16 ft. seawall that they installed to prevent future flooding due to storm surges took sixty years to complete.  The disturbing part is how much this sort of renovation would cost nowadays.

And there's the oil situation.  They're now saying that some fifty oil platforms are damaged or missing and that the ports that supply all of the platforms are shut down.  One report on the radio said that some shallow-water oil fields just off the coast of Louisiana simply aren't there anymore.  They also said that the Port of New Orleans was the only port in the US that some of the largest super-tankers could put into.

Today I paid over $3 a gallon for gas for the first time in my particular life.  8.4 gallons cost $25.77.  That means that if my 16 gallon tank was bone-dry, a fill-up would cost right at $50.  Shee-it, people!

This whole deal might be a lot more serious than most people realize just yet.  My concern is that we are blowing our gross national product on the wrong things.  The Netherlands spent trillions (with a "T") of dollars on flood control infrastructure during the twentieth century.  Of course, they're an extreme case.  They would simply perish without all of the dikes, gates, pumps and seawalls it takes to keep them dry.  But they realize that and they put their money where their economic survival is.  They can't forget about it the way we do.

Hell, I don't know what you do.  You certainly can't prevent hurricanes, but there is evidence that some attention to infrastructure can help.  It turns out that another Cat 4 hurricane hit Galveston in 1915.  That time there were 275 people killed and 5 to 6 ft. floods as opposed to 6000+ killed and 15 ft. floods in 1900.  The post 1900 renovations and the partially completed seawall are credited with mitigating the disaster to the extent it was mitigated.  Actually, assuming similar storms, that's a pretty big improvement.

It's going to be interesting.  Besides the folks who say, "Eh, just abandon New Orleans and let it sink.  If this hurricane hadn't gotten it, the next one would have," there are those saying that this might be a good time to move the whole city upstream a bit, away from the coast and above sea level, for God's sake.  There's some logic in that.  I've always wondered about folks who keep rebuilding their houses in areas where natural disasters keep knocking them down.  But New Orleans.  Can you get more culturally entrenched than that?  There are going to be millions of people all over the country (hell, all over the world) who are going to want it put back just the way it was.  But if you do, what guarantee do you have that you won't have to do it again in ten years.  Or five.  Or next fall?

Yep.  It's going to be interesting.
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